Liteon has manage to quite cannily distinguish itself from the deluge of Chinese AV manufacturers by adding high-end features to its low-price DVD recorders. The LVW-5055 is the ultimate example of this ethos, and an admirable wake-up call to the major manufacturers who have only been putting token improvements on their recorders of late.
More than capable of competing with high-end models from the bigger manufacturers, the LVW-5055 has a huge 250GB hard drive, a DVD recorder with near-universal format compatibility and all the other quality features, such as progressive-scan video, DV input and DivX video playback.
While the front-end required to pull all this functionality together suffers somewhat from a typically budget 'bare bones' approach, the Liteon will still do everything you'd expect it to, and then some. It's multi-region out of the box, it will copy DVDs to hard drive at the touch of a button, and it even has dual-layer DVD+R write support. With all these features, we feel churlish pointing out the LVW-5055 doesn't feature a Freeview tuner. If you can live without that, and want an otherwise excellently featured recorder, the LVW-5055 is a real treat.
The Liteon LVW-5055 looks far nicer than its predecessor, the LVW-5045, and it could no doubt fool an unsuspecting user into thinking it was a more premium item at first glance. The fascia is a nice mix of silver and clear plastic panels, with a fold-down bottom half that hides some connectivity. Most of the AV connections are tucked away on the rear, but if you only want to hook up a camcorder occasionally, it's good to have access to the front.
If you're connecting a Freeview or Sky box, you'll want to plug into the RGB Scart input as it gives the best quality picture. Likewise, if you have a flat-screen or projection-based display, you'll want to use the component video outputs for a solid, detailed picture on your TV. Only as a last resort will you need the internal TV tuner, as the analogue reception gives smudgy, washed out pictures.
If you're not a flat-screen owner, the RGB Scart output gives detailed and solid pictures, plus a composite video output is available if your television is really old. There's also an RF loopthrough, which is fairly redundant in this day and age. There are both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs -- both give the same sound quality, but it's great to be given a choice as different users will have different connectivity on their amps. Front connectivity is excellent, with a DV input to make digital copies of your camcorder footage, as well as S-Video and composite video for older camcorders or even a games console.
The menu system is antiquated and the remote control isn't the most elegant that we've used, but it's easy to find your way around. The major features have their own button on the remote, so you don't have to fumble around too much, and each option (such as 'Copy DVD to HDD') is displayed with huge text and graphics. The buttons on the remote are way too small, though, and there's a huge, inexplicable gap in the centre that could have been used to spread them out, but it's light enough to be comfortable in the hand.